Laneway foot trade for the imaginative

By Rhonda Dredge

There are still some surprises to be had down Melbourne’s laneways where dark corners and miraculous facades are a religion for those who crave something different.

Avid shoppers will traipse up and down buildings and disappear into alleys to find a local product.

If you’ve got a thin foot or an ingrown toenail, however, you mightn’t be as adventurous.

A surprise just off Flinders Lane could be the perfect solution. Manchester Lane has a smooth surface and the shoes down here will help you fly.

The shoes look fashionably uncomfortable in their glittery stances but all have a biomechanical footbed to support the foot, even high heels and strappy sandals.

Bared opened just nine months ago and it’s a Melbourne company selling products designed here to suit the local foot.

“We don’t want to be a comfort brand,” says business founder Anna Baird. “We’re a fashion brand that’s wearable.”

The opening of the store flies in the face of the pundits who predict a move away from small local shops in arcades to an influx of global brands.

According to Colliers International, 50 new shops have opened in malls in the last 12 months and there has been an above average vacancy rate in the area between Swanston and Elizabeth streets.

Coupled with the trend towards casual sportswear in fashion and the recent opening of global shoe stores JD Sports and Under Amour, there is pressure on designer dress brands.

Baird, a podiatrist, has chosen a former nightclub as her CBD hang-out and a décor of velvet drapes and exotic plants is making no concessions to global gloom.

The bottom line for small local businesses in the CBD is that they need friends.

“We run events in this space,” says Baird. “We have food and jazz for the Festival of Steve in May.  These are all CBD retailers, many of them start-up companies.”

Bared proved the appeal of its range at a store in High Street, Armadale, which opened 10 years ago. CBD Bared is aimed at men. The shoes were initially manufactured in Sydney but now are made in China.

“The best artisans are in China,” Ms Baird said, who is quick to promote her decision to manufacture offshore. “We’d have to retail at over $400 if they were made here. China is amazing.”

The company is heavily into marketing with warehouse sales, free shoes if mistakes are made with fitting and a staff that includes podiatrists. Models such as the Galah, Rooster, Vulture come in 10 sizes and can be fitted with orthotics.

There are now 815 above-ground shops in the CBD, many selling original wares and the Festival of Steve markets what the well-groomed CBD man should be wearing.

The pundits might prefer to shop at St Collins Lane and buy global brands but the Galahs are adjustable and comfortable.

Even though foot traffic has been redirected by Metro Rail works, there is no need to queue for limited editions when Australian companies can do bespoke runs. “We could do 30 pink and purple polkadots,” Ms Baird joked.

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